There are still plenty of unknowns with COVID-19, and researchers at University of Calgary plan to find out more through a study investigating the long-term impacts the disease can have on the body.
The new study led by Dr. Satish Raj, a professor of cardiac sciences at U of C, will work with those who have had "long COVID," a term coined to describe those still with symptoms three months after the fact.
He says these symptoms include rapid heartbeat, light-headedness and shortness of breath.
"There's so much variability and that's what we're starting to understand," he said.
And it's not that uncommon either. Raj says some studies have suggested it can happen to as many as 30 to 40 per cent of cases.
"Other studies suggest the number may be in the range of five per cent, which doesn't sound like a large number. But if you multiply it by the number of people that have had COVID, not just in hospital, that's a huge impact."
The demographic of people getting long COVID ranges too and otherwise healthy people may now have trouble walking from the bedroom to the bathroom.
"One of the challenges is that we see different symptoms in these patients, but we don't have an understanding of what the problem is," he said.
"And so we are approaching it from our area of expertise, which is studying disorders of the autonomic nervous system."
Raj, who is also a clinician-scientist within the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, has seen a marked increase in the number of individuals seeking treatment at the Calgary Autonomic Investigation and Management Clinic.
For the study, he says it will be held in six sites across Canada and include 180 long haul COVID patients and 40 healthy control subjects.
From there, the group will undergo physiology treatments and be assessed for measurable problems of the autonomic nervous system, such as heart rate, breathing and blood pressure.
"We'll continuously monitor their blood pressure and we'll lie them down, stand them up, look at maneuvers that stress the autonomic nervous system," he said.
The aim is to eventually better treat people dealing with the symptoms of long COVID and to develop targeted treatments.
"The goal is to really say, how do we treat this properly if we don't understand what the problem is physiologically," he said.
"One of our strategies empirically has been to try to increase dietary salt and water intake in some of these patients to augment the blood volume, get more blood going back to the heart and decrease the tachycardia (extremely rapid heartbeat) and palpitations in that way."
The study is just getting started, and Raj says they are looking to start recruiting participants before the end of October by getting referrals from long COVID clinics and though participant emails.
The doctor hopes that some of these findings will be able to be shared by the end of 2022.
With files from The Homestretch.email@example.com